Monday, 17 June 2013
At Youth and school Masses (should we not say ‘Masses celebrated in schools’ or ‘Mass with the youth’?) we are expected to happily welcome ‘liturgical dance’ or songs performed with interpretive gestures. Yet there is no such thing as ‘liturgical dance’ or interpretative presentations; they are out of place in Eucharist-centred worship:
"Notitiae" 11 (1975) 202-205 characterised as a ‘qualified and authoritative sketch.’
“Neither can acceptance be had of the proposal to introduce into the liturgy the so-called artistic ballet, because there would be presentation here also of a spectacle at which one would assist, while in the liturgy one of the norms from which one cannot prescind is that of participation.
The traditional reserve of the seriousness of religious worship, and of [Roman Catholic] worship in particular, must never be forgotten.
If local churches have accepted the dance, sometimes even in the church building, that was on the occasion of feasts in order to manifest sentiments of joy and devotion. But that always took place outside of liturgical services.
Conciliar decisions have often condemned the religious dance because it conduces little to worship and because it could degenerate into disorders.
Dance, skits etc., may well have a place in paraliturgies since they can be useful in engaging the youth (and those who seek an animated experience of worship), but the Eucharist is altogether different since in the Eucharist, God the Son worships God the Father; a worship to which we unite ourselves by consciously, actively, lifting up our hearts (Sursum corda). A few brief points will illustrate why dance, interpretive gestures, comedic homilies etc., are inappropriate in the celebration of Mass.
First, the sanctuary is the holy of holies; symbolic of the place where the Most High Dwells. In terms of spirituality then, it is inappropriate to upstage God in His own sanctuary. In terms of liturgy, the sanctuary is the Presbyterium where the priests of the Lord offer His Divine Sacrifice. Since priests have been called by God and set aside by Him for a specific role within the community, to have laity (children or adults) gather around the altar where the presbyter fulfils his role does not so much blur the distinction of our God-given roles as demolish it.
General Instruction of the Roman Missal 2012: Arrangement Of A Church For The Liturgical Assembly
294. The People of God, gathered for Mass, has a coherent and hierarchical structure, which finds its expression in the variety of ministries and the variety of actions according to the different parts of the celebration. The general ordering of the sacred building must be such that in some way it conveys the image of the gathered assembly and allows the appropriate ordering of all the participants, as well as facilitating each in the proper carrying out of his function.
The faithful and the choir should have a place that facilitates their active participation.
The priest celebrant, the deacon, and the other ministers have places in the sanctuary. Seats for concelebrants should also be prepared there. If, however, their number is great, seats should be arranged in another part of the church, but near the altar.
Second, and importantly, dance and comedy alter the way the Holy Mass is perceived. When the talents of comedy and dance are used in the liturgy we inherently imply that Holy Mass is but another context in which our gifts and skills can be displayed and affirmed. Further, since comedy and dance are enjoyable, we begin to see Mass as something to be enjoyed, just as one would enjoy a school performance or a parish cabaret.
Cardinal Arinze, Prefect of Congregation for Divine Worship, Apostolate for Family Consecration Conference, 2003:
The difficulty is this: we come to Mass primarily to adore God - what we call the vertical dimension. We do not come to Mass to entertain one another. That's not the purpose of Mass. The parish hall is for that.
Third, dance and comedy change both the focus and the dynamic of the assembly. Dance and comedy, even if the intention is to glorify of God, by their nature solicit our attention on the joke or dance, the homilist or dancers, thereby constituting a distraction from our focus on God. This is not the case when we simply follow the liturgical books in which all we do is God-focused: we are God-focused when confessing our sinfulness, listening to the readings, preaching the Gospel, interceding in the General Intercessions, presenting the gifts, offering the Sacrifice and receiving Holy Communion. This is not so when we change the focus to a dance or jokes. Further, when the focus of those gathered thus shifts, we change the very dynamic of the event from worship of God to the community’s talents, intrinsically turning those present from a worshipping congregation into an audience, effectively creating an ‘intermission’ in the act of worship.
Cardinal Arinze, Prefect of Congregation for Divine Worship, Apostolate for Family Consecration Conference, 2003:
But when you introduce wholesale, say, a ballerina, then I want to ask you what is it all about. What exactly are you arranging? When the people finish dancing in the Mass and then when the dance group finishes and people clap -don't you see what it means? It means we have enjoyed it... So there is something wrong. Whenever the people clap -there is something wrong- immediately.
Fourth, by limiting dance and comedy to paraliturgies we can enhance the status of the Mass; we can help the people to see the Eucharist as sacrosanct. Surely this is something we all want, never mind have a duty to assert? The more that people understand the immense dignity of the Eucharist, the more they will perceive God’s generosity in providing It -and experience their own value to Him in receiving It.
Finally, by implying that the liturgy can be enhanced by use of our human talents in comedy and dance etc., we reduce people’s awareness of the Mass as the sacrosanct pinnacle of Christian worship offered by Christ to the Father. Indeed, our external activity at Mass has become more important to many clergy, teachers, parents and dancing participants (of all ages) than the Actio Christi, the hidden action of Christ in the Eucharist, since they are unhappy when they are told it is to be omitted.
To be sure, no one wants to exclude dance, comedy, skits etc from the religious experience of the youth (or those seeking an animated experience of worship), but we do want to see them used in their proper context and not in the Divine Liturgy that is the Mass. At the Divine Liturgy we are (or ought to be) focused on God from beginning to end, not asked to take time out so as to laugh with comedic homilists or admire and applaud delighting dancers.
P.S. Have you ever noticed that many of those who like (or want to introduce) such things as dance to the liturgy are offended when the (optional) exchange of the sign of peace is omitted and actually refrain from actions which are required in the Missal, such as bowing at the Incarnatus est of the Creed and striking the breast during the Confiteor?
I have refrained from making any comments about Pope Francis for fear they would be taken as a disregard for him and for his ministry as Pope. This is what appears to have happened following a recent post by Fr Hugh of Dominus mihi adjutor. But there is much sense in Father Hugh’s post, and I for one did not see any vitriol or disrespect toward our Holy Father in it.
Let us be clear: reigning Popes have never, from the time Paul confronted Peter, been above criticism. As such, I feel able to express disappointment with any Pope without questioning his integrity, holiness or over-all competency. In regard to Pope Francis, I simply think that by allowing himself to be portrayed as the ‘humble pope’ by ditching papal regalia/etiquette and dumbing down the liturgy, it can seem that he is saying “look how humble I am”. This can only be corrected by making use of the papal regalia/etiquette that define not him, but his office; it would show he has subordinated himself to his office. Second, since every priest and bishop in the world could say we are generally competent in our office but at times said or done something we later felt was ill-advised, why should we not allow for this same reality in a pope? After all, indefectibility is not part of the Papal office.
To add my two-bob’s worth to the Francis saga then, let me simply say that Fr Bergoglio does seem unaware that his words and actions are scrutinised to the zenith degree now that he is Pope and that for this reason he must be very careful in what he says and does. But we have to give him time; I am sure he will learn this in much the same way as we all do –by our mistakes. Over-all, my impression is simply Pope Francis does not want the adornments of his office to be seen as self-aggrandisement; that he wants to be seen simply as a co-follower of the Lord; as a kind of ‘parish priest of the world’ rather than Supreme Pontiff. But he must not ignore that he is, in fact, the Supreme Pontiff, and that this brings serious obligations and responsibilities for safeguarding the Faith and the faithful. To be free and easy with words can, rather than endear any of us to the folk, irritate a fair portion of our flock, become a cause of division and, in fact, be imprudent simply by their nature of being off-the-cuff, un-thought out, remarks. For all of us –Pope, Bishop, Priest or Layman- imprudent remarks can make us something of a liability.
Can I suggest however, that we all have something to learn from the Pope’s remarks to CLAR? The Pope must learn that imprudence is inherently possible with off-the-cuff remarks and be more careful in the future; we, on the other hand, have to stop reading the words of a Pope as absolute, precise elucidations of his thought on every occasion that he opens his mouth; we need to give him the same leeway for imprudence we expect for ourselves, since we all have the possibility of making mistakes in everyday conversations. We cannot expect the Pope to live under the pressure of watching every word he says from the moment he gets out of bed in the morning.
It would be useful if this learning was to take place now for both Pope and for us, since his remarks to CLAR (at least as they were reported) seem to cast a slur against many devout Catholics around the world who simply hold to ages-old, tried and tested liturgy and devotions. Indeed it is because of this that they are likely to be among his most faithful subjects; they simply do not go in for dissent as do the ‘Progressives’ and are not unthinking ‘Conservatives’ who blindly follow all that comes from Rome. Rather, they are intelligent, devoted sheep who weigh up and seek to clarify and harmonise what we are given by Rome today with what Rome has given in the past. Unfortunately the Pope’s remarks have presented him as having no concern for such intelligent, devoted sheep. I am sure that this is not the case; I am sure that his genuine solicitude for every person on the planet cannot be seriously doubted.
Thursday, 13 June 2013
The Catechism tells us (CCC.1090) taking up the words of Vatican II, that at Mass we participate in the worship offered in heaven: "In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 8; Lumen Gentium 50). This must be so if the Risen Lord is Truly and Substantially Present in the Eucharistic species, for where God is, there is heaven. Many seem to overlook the fact we are not imitating the angels and saints at Mass: the Sanctus reminds us that we are “with the angels and saints” (Prefaces of the Mass). It is no wonder that to our Orthodox brethren the Mass is known as The Divine Liturgy.
If we truly believe in the Real Presence we cannot deny that when we are at Mass we are in heaven; that we are participating in the very worship of heaven. Our celebration of the liturgy (the ‘clothing’ of the Mass we might say) must therefore reflect the heavenly reality; it must provide an experience of the transcendent so that we can attain to an awareness of the numinous. Sadly, what has happened over the last few decades is that the liturgy has been bannalised and made to reflect the culture of man: hymns are sung to commonly known folk tunes; folk and rock instruments have become the background to words and gestures; altars are made from materials reflecting the local industry; informality wherein the celebrant insets himself into the congregation to preach and distribute Holy Communion is common. It has become so commonplace to make the Mass reflective of human culture rather than the worship offered by heaven that priests are asked to play pop songs at weddings and funerals. I have been asked for ‘The Wedding’ and ‘Everything I do, I do for you’ at weddings, and for ‘My Way’, ‘Wind Beneath my Wings’ and ‘Someday, We’ll Be Together’ at funerals. When asked I ask, gently, if they will be singing hymns at the reception. It immediately clicks with people that Church is for hymns, and the Club the place for pop music. None of the foregoing –informality of celebrants, pop tunes etc- are reflective of heaven, yet all too often it is informality and the ‘pop’ culture that we experience at Mass, many of us having lost sight of the fact that Holy Mass is heaven on earth. We need to restore the sense of the sacred, but this is decidedly hard when too many of our Bishops and liturgists have been formed in the informal, populist ways of the last forty years and are unable to think outside the box in which they were so rigidly formed. I dare here to suggest some very simple steps we can take to restore the sense of the sacred; to re-sacralise the liturgy and make Mass Holy again.
The first step is architectural. The barns of the last few decades, stripped of traditional Catholic imagery and with a sanctuary raised only by one step, should go. We need a building that raises one’s eyes to heaven by its height; a building where religious imagery of the angels and saints reminds us that we have left the world behind and entered heaven; a building where the sanctuary is raised by at least three steps to indicate the Holiness of the Triune God. We also need altars of marble or stone to reflect Christ our Rock. Today, even altars reflect man’s local culture: I have seen an altar the altar like scaffolding in a steelworks area, while in a seaside town a sea rock was flattened off on top to make the mensa. If this is not making the liturgy reflective of earth rather than heaven, I don’t know what is. Altar rails need not be restored if people are totally adverse to them, but they are at least helpful –in fact most valuable- in symbolically separating the world from the holy of holies and thus helping those in attendance to grasp the sacred nature of the sanctuary and what takes place there.
The second step is the celebration of Mass ad orientem. It is impossible not to ‘play to the audience’ when Mass is offered facing the people, because we naturally focus the mind on what the eyes see in order to make cognitive sense of what is seen.
The third step is use of music that is ‘other’ than pop tunes and songs, which reflect the popular culture of man, not heaven. Chant, as the music given to the world by the Church and as required by Vatican II, must be restored. It is ingenious to claim to be ‘a Vatican II man’ when the Council’s liturgical decrees are deliberately flouted or left unimplemented simply because one cannot think beyond the box in which one was formed. We ought not to sing at every moment, for that would be to omit the sacred silence necessary for good liturgy; that silence which reflects the Presence of God among us. As scripture says, “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Habakkuk 2v20).
The fourth step is the deportment of the priest and his ministers. When altars are used as desks for Fathers spectacles, hymn book, bulletin, glass of water etc., we symbolically tell the people that the mensa is just another working surface and not the Altar of Sacrifice (an aside: notice how many people speak of the sanctuary as the altar? “Johnny is on the altar today”). Assisting Ministers (servers and deacons) should have the dignity of the Palace Guard, by which we do not mean ‘rigid’, but erect. Priests too must learn to conduct themselves with the same dignity and grace in both gesture and pace of movement, by which we do not want to see them effeminately prancing around but moving with the dignity of the soldier approaching his King to be knighted. Priests should also learn to utter the texts of the Mass prayerfully, not as though they were lecture notes. Ministerial attire also needs attention. Beautiful vestments for the priests are works of art which instruct, while servers should return to wearing the cassock and cotta rather than an alb –which is the undergarment of clergy vestments; albs are not attire in themselves.
Finally, reception of Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue is the only way to symbolically inform those receiving that this is not common bread which we may take in our hands without thinking; nor is it a ticket we take to gain entry to the cinema. It is God Incarnate, the Lamb of God Sacrificed and Risen (Rev.5v6). Reception in the mouth is not infantile but reminiscent of lovers where one places food in the mouth of the other in an intimate manner. Further, kneeling for Holy Communion was the only time many people got to touch the holy of holies. When we receive standing, none who are not ordained to it get to touch the sanctuary except the chosen few. Reception on the tongue while kneeling is a witness to the Real Presence, and gives us another meaning to the text of sacred scripture that “every knee shall bend and every tongue confess...” (Philip.2v10).
We occasionally still hear some speak of ‘Holy Mass’, but I don’t think we often see it celebrated that way. It is time we did.
Monday, 10 June 2013
At an event I recently attended I was asked by a lady I have not seen for 30 years why I became a priest. I mumbled off a quick response because I was about to leave and anyway, it’s not so interesting a story. but she is not alone in asking "where I came from", and I have been asked to blog my story even in simple style. So here goes...
My father, Joss, was at first a coal miner, then a builder; my mother, Jean, was a home-maker and a part-time barmaid. I was born the fourth of six living children (we had a brother who died before birth). My three sisters were all in the caring professions; my elder brother was a builder, my younger brother a cobbler.
We were not a religious family; attending Church played no part in our family life, and yet my paternal grandmother attended chapel on Sunday evenings and my maternal grandfather was a devout Catholic. When I asked why we didn’t go to Church I was told “we don’t have to; we’re not Catholics”. I instinctively knew though, that if God is God, we should be going.
Still, to correct my bad behaviour mum would say, “Now Gary, God is watching”, and although this can present God as the great policeman in the sky it did give me a sense of His all-pervading presence and of my accountability to Him. I was in any case very spiritual and received my own bible at the age of five; a large Children’s Edition which took you all the way from Genesis to Revelation -and which was not too badly ‘dumbed down’.
By the age of eight I had viewed my grandfather’s slides from Lourdes and watched ‘The Song of Bernadette’ on TV. Gaining a great love for Our Lady I longed to go to Lourdes -and longed to be a Catholic because I saw that only if God was remembered would people make sure they did the good and avoided the wrong. So I began asking myself what I could do to make folk more conscious of God. It was a dull afternoon when I considered nailing two pieces of wood together to make a huge cross for the garden, but I knew dad would be unimpressed, so I looked for something other way of achieving my aim. It was then that Father Smith passed the garden and I knew the answer: “I’ll be a priest, because when people see a priest they have to think about God!” I went straight indoors and announced to my Protestant family, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a priest”. But I was advised, “Just be a Vicar and that way you can still get married”. My response was, “No; I want to be a proper priest”. Years later after recounting this story while preaching in a Carmelite convent one of the nuns wrote to me saying, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you....”.
Anyway, apart from learning to say the Rosary at the age of 12 at the hand of my mum, nothing came of my priestly idea until I was 20 when mum heard the local Catholic Church was going on pilgrimage to Lourdes. Since her father had told her “If you ever get the chance to go to Lourdes Jean, take it”, she had added our names to the list of pilgrims. I considered that if I was going to Lourdes I had to go as a Catholic, so I began my instructions. I was received into the Church on May 29th, and in Lourdes on June 6th.
Spiritually, my instruction period was not an easy one. Each week while on my way there I would be sure I was doing the wrong thing and resolve to end my instruction that night. Yet every week on the way home I was so enthralled I determined I would be back next week and at Mass weekdays and Sundays. My Reception night brought the same feelings, but more intense: “What are you playing at Gary?” Still, I went ahead...
As I was unemployed at the time I threw myself into parish life: gardening, visiting with the SVP, doing one-to-one contact with the Legion of Mary, functioning as a Reader, and among the very first batch of Extra-ordinary ministers commissioned in the Diocese. Mind you, I could be a better Catholic: I am too lazy at times, and I have to work control of my temper. Yes, the spirit is willing (or is it?), but the flesh is weak (or simply not brought to heel?)...
I then began training for a professional life, and though I had a wonderful fiancé at the time, the nagging idea about priesthood was still nagging, so I decided to do the right thing and apply for seminary. Having done so, I was ordained in 1993.
My faith leaves me somewhat isolated from my family when moral issues are under discussion; at such times I feel only half-heard because I am “religious”. We are however, a very close, supportive and loving family, and I hope I make them feel as valued as they make me feel. It is simply that in terms of morality their world-view is subjectivist (“Whatever is right for you”). Thus pre-marital sex, co-habitation, contraception and homosexual activity all seem fine to them: “It’s people’s choice; you can’t judge them”. It seems very hard for non-Catholics to grasp that we Catholics judge actions and situations, not people; and that we judge the acts and situations only as to whether they are a help or hindrance to their salvation. Certainly we warn against things that we see as harmful to their soul, but without judging the person –much like a physician warns against smoking without judging the smoker.
Certainly my faith in God is an inner experience which I cannot give to another since inner experiences are by nature unique to each person, yet I see such evidence in creation for the reality of God that I wonder how a non-believer can remain unbelieving. After all, it is the very laws of nature that make scientific investigation possible: the mathematics which underpin the universe allow physics to exist as a science; the stable workings of the cell and DNA allow biology to exist as a science, and the stability of the periodic table allows for chemistry to exist as a science. All the balance and design in physics, chemistry and biology point to a mind and a power greater than ourselves; greater even, than our combined efforts. I take great pleasure in pointing out to folk that it was a Catholic priest-scientist who discovered the Big Bang (George Lemaitre); a Catholic priest-scientist who founded the science of genetics (Gregor Menel); a Catholic priest-scientist who is regarded as the founder of aeronautics (Francesco Lana de Terzi); a Catholic scientist who is regarded as the founder of modern chemistry (Antoine Lavoisier) and a catholic priest-scientist who is regarded as the father of cytology (J.Baptiste Carnoy). In fact, over 30 craters of the moon of named after the Jesuit astronomers who charted them. Surely Catholics can be very proud of their contribution to, and promotion of, modern science. I am.
Not only that, but there is such beauty in creation that God cannot be anything but magnificent. Certainly illness, disability and tragedies darken our lives and are heavy crosses to bear, but most of the ugliness in life is man-made: violence, theft, adultery, abandonment, duplicity are all the absence of a goodness that is otherwise present in creation: the goodness of respect for a person’s life and property; the good of faithfulness to (and care for) one’s partner; honesty of life. All of these provide for a stable, supportive society -and are the core of the Ten Commandments.
Now I know Popes, priests and consecrated persons have perpetrated grave scandals -it because of such scandals that it is hard to live the priestly life today since we have all been tarnished by their betrayals and become the subject of personal abuse in the streets. But there were grave scandals when I worked in the Health Service too: Nurse Allit killing children on her ward, and Dr Shipman killing patients in the community. Yet just as Dr Shipman and Nurse Allit do not make the NHS bad, so scandalous clergy do not make the Church bad; it remains a good, true, and holy Mother of souls.
I know that our moral teachings do not sit well with today’s society, but we are the people of God who is the source of life (we can say ‘I have life’ we cannot say ‘I am life’; all life in our universe is a given thing). And as the people of God who is life, we are necessarily a people of life, and must do all we can to respect and protect life. All much too basically stated, we thus we reject contraception because it refuses to cooperate with life; abortion and euthanasia because they intentionally end life; and homosexual acts because it is use of the life-propagating act in ways that cannot procreate life. Sex before marriage doesn't seem to be of the same order as these obviously life-linked activities, but in fact it runs the risk of bringing about new life outside the stability of a life-long commitment of the parents, which doesn't guarantee the child a stable future. We must admit, neither can marriage though unless it is entered into only after mature deliberation, and this is often lacking these days with most marriages taking place simply because the couple are already cohabiting or already have a child. This as fundamentally the wrong way around; we seek to have people commit to one another first, so that they can commit to any forthcoming children as a committed, stable unit. Establishing the stable relationship before we bring a child into being is like establishing the four walls (a house) before we buy furniture: it provides a context.
What gives me the strength to go on when I have my faults; when our goodness to others is seen as 'wet' and abused; when society is so set against Catholic morality (and thus against Catholics)? What keeps me going is the Sacraments, especially Holy Mass and Confession. Having been given a share in God’s life in Baptism, Holy Mass then places me at the foot of Christ’s Cross where He makes present His act of supreme love: “This is My Body, which is given up for you”, He then feeds me with His own Body and Blood in Holy Communion as a pledge of eternal life, happiness and peace: “He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood lives in Me, and I live in Him...Whoever eats Me will draw life from Me”. Meanwhile, Confession applies to my soul the very grace of salvation which Christ won for me on the Cross. Finally, when I am ill and about to leave this world, I hope to receive the Sacrament of Anointing which prepares one’s soul for entry into the presence of God.
So yes, I prize God who has given us a wonderful creation and a beautiful Faith. Yes, I am humbled by the privileges He has given to me in that as a priest I daily stand at the altar to offer His Holy Sacrifice in the Mass; I reconcile my fellow sinners to Him in Confession; I bless the union of man and woman in the bond of Matrimonial love; I support those in life’s crisis events and Anoint with Holy Oil my fellow Catholics who are about to leave this world. Truly, ‘He who walks on the wings of the wind’ has made me a servant-child, someone who goes before Him ‘to prepare His way before Him’; ‘to make known to His people their salvation’ –ultimately, to make known the love of Him from above ‘who visits us like the dawn from on high’.
Saturday, 8 June 2013
Every now and again one gets a vivid awareness of the great privileges one has as a priest. There is the supreme privilege of offering the Holy Sacrifice, by which every grace is brought into the world; there is the privilege of remitting original sin and filling the soul with sanctifying grace as he or she is grafted into the Mystical Body of Christ by Baptism; there is the privilege of Anointing those about to leave this world wherein we help the soul present itself to the Lord without spot or wrinkle (even if there is still some reparation to be done) and the privilege of reconciling sinners in Confession, by which reunion with God and heaven is effected and peace restored to the soul.
Though celebration of the Sacraments is always perceived as a wondrous privilege of our spiritual fatherhood, the daily life of serving the people may not look so wondrous. Yet it is a great privilege: when we priests touch the lives of those in the distress of terminal illness, bereavement or relationship breakdown, we wipe the face of Christ on the cross; when we touch people at times of great joy such as a birth or marriage, we are rejoicing with Him in His Resurrection as a new life begins. We have a duty but no right to be involved in people’s most personal life experiences, yet we are invited in, and while a physician too may feel the great privilege of healing bodies and minds for a period of time, we priests provide ministrations which bring life eternal; a life of perfect happiness and peace with God. We should never underestimate the time we spend with the housebound, the sick, the bereaved, the distressed or the children in the school, when the reality is that at such times we are ministering to Christ.
I venture to say that we should never underestimate our teaching or governing roles either. By teaching we bring the light of Christ into minds and hearts which are tarnished by the shadows of this world’s false lights; by governing with charity we keep the people of God one in mind and heart. Our Lord prayed that all might be one, and this must be a oneness of truth and charity, since Christ is Truth and Charity. It is our privileged task to facilitate this oneness by opening doors in hearts and minds to His grace.
While I do not and would not suggest that a very debilitated, worn out man should stumble onto the sanctuary to offer Mass or struggle through the front door of the next housebound soul (we have a duty to self-care), a privilege I have come to value recently is ministering during times of ill health. When we are stressed by life’s events or are physically ill, when we go to make a visit when we are not 100% ourselves, the words of the consecration can be uttered with a sincerity that cannot be present when life is going well and our body is fighting fit, for then, in a truly amazing way, we “imitate the mystery we handle” and live out the sacred words: “This is my body, given up for you”.
Monday, 3 June 2013
I have been looking at the latest edition of the Catholic newspaper within our Diocese, ‘The Northern Cross’, and found some of its articles, which I have discussed with several people more knowledgeable than myself, to be quite disturbing.
This month’s edition has, for example, a gentleman contributor saying that since the laity are “gifted by God with free will and the ability to doubt” we do not need the Hierarchical Church Christ left us: “we are not sheep” (apparently we need no Good Shepherd or anyone sent by Him as He was sent). Apparently, people who doubt and defend artificial contraception, homosexuality and women’s ordination are courageous and using their God-given gifts but “are met with a sledgehammer”. But isn’t this what Adam and Eve believed at the Fall? That we can doubt God and get by on our own reason?
We then have an Episcopal Vicar telling us the Diocese wants to prepare laity for leadership, which can lead to just what the gentleman contibutor proposes: a sheepfold without shepherds -or only of shepherds, if "we are not sheep". Now who was it at the Fall that told man he could go it alone? I expect the Diocese means we are to collaborate with yet under our priest leaders, but it isn’t always heard (or presented) that way. Too often it portrays equality of responsibility (wrongly perceived as power, which is how the misnomer of ‘empowerment’ enters into the equation). If we aren’t careful we will be unequivocally clericalising the laity and laicising the clergy.
Next we have a Retreat Centre in the Diocese telling us they offer the pagan practices of Tai Chi and Yoga –apparently, Christ-centred prayer can be replaced with man-centred practices (Tai Chi aims at helping the flow of ‘vital energy’ or ‘life force’ called “qi” that supposedly regulates a person’s body, mind and spirit; Yoga is designed to achieve “Kaivalya” (final freedom) by releasing the soul from the chains which bind them to reincarnation).
Finally, there is a photograph of (illicit) ‘liturgical dance’, showing that man has taken over the sanctuary, replacing God-centred worship with entertaining displays of human talents.
All in all, in reading the paper I found I was getting a disturbing picture of our Diocese; one where people are snared by the hermeneutic of discontinuity that appeared after Vatican II -as snared as were Adam and Eve in their sin following their fall from God-centeredness and grace. And like Adam and Eve, today’s ‘enlightened’ people are taking souls with them into the darkness of self-direction dressed up as free will and conscience; into paganism dressed-up as prayer, and into the admiration of man dressed-up as Divine worship.
Now I DO support lay involvement in the Church and collaborative ministry: I am an Extraordinary Minister; I am a Reader, I am a member of the PACT (formerly called the Parish Council) and active in the liturgy. But I want a parish family led by a man called by Christ Himself to be our spiritual Father; I do not want a parish led by Sister Smith or Mr Green, nor do I want to attend funeral services led by Mr Black or Mrs Brown. I want to come to Mass, there to adore, praise, propitiate and petition God; I do not want to come to Church, there to be entertained by, uplifted by or to applaud dancers and comedic homilists who by their dance and comedy transform us from a praying congregation into an audience. We need to be truly honest of heart here and ask ourselves some serious questions, since we shall one day stand before God. We need to ask: are we not promoting and even facilitating a ‘priestless Church’? Are we not building a Church which espouses pagan practices? Are we not building a Church which seeks to ‘entertain’ and ‘affirm’ man in its worship? Are we not building a Church which asserts the world’s atheistic ‘morality’ as courageous and enlightened? The articles cited would indicate that the answer is ‘yes’ –and all to the detriment of souls, I fear.
Thursday, 30 May 2013
In our parish we do not have a Pastoral Council as it gave the impression that the members were Governors of the parish, which is not at all how they are seen in Canon Law. Rather, we have what we call the Pastoral Action Care Team (PACT). We meet to discuss parish needs, plan pastoral responses and put those plans into action. At our most recent meeting it was noted that there are still some who do not like the so-called ‘Old Mass’, and would I address this issue. This then, is the note I attached to the minutes of the PACT meeting for distribution to the parishioners.
It is not morally possible to say the ‘Old Form’ of Mass (which formed saints for over 1000 years) is no good to us; we cannot say that what was honourable to the saints is beneath us. Throughout the history of the Church, the only people to reject Latin and receiving on the tongue were the Protestant Reformers.
Yes this form of Mass is less easy; it does not lead us by the hand and keep us occupied with words as does the New Form; it demands concentration in our prayer. To be honest, the first time I attended it I did not like it; the first time I celebrated it I found it too hard. Yes some dislike it because of  the Latin, and because  it demands more reverence from us (by its silence, and its demand for reception of Our Lord on the tongue while kneeling).
As to , surely there is no way we can we expect the greatest Mystery on Earth to be easily comprehended? We seem to have fooled ourselves into thinking we understand the Mass because we recognise the words used in celebrating it.
In regard to , can we ever say we are giving too much reverence to God? Surely extra reverence for God by receiving on the tongue while kneeling cannot be a problem for us, because nothing we do for God’s glory can be beneath us.
As a point of information: Do we realise that facing the altar is still the rubric of the Mass? Do we realise the official Form of the ‘English Mass’ (as some call it) is still Latin, which is always and everywhere the norm (without outlawing English)? Do we realise that the norms also hold to reception on the tongue? Strictly speaking, English and Reception in the Hand are allowed only by indult (‘indulgent’ permission from Rome); they are not normative. We can then, sincerely ask ourselves: “Would I still prefer the so-called ‘New Mass’ if it was celebrated altar-facing, in Latin, and followed the Norm of reception on the tongue?” If not, then we need to be honest (or at least recognise) that what we are supporting is not actually the ‘New Mass’ at all, but the options and indults, which may be removed by Rome at any time.
It is contrary to the Catholic spirit to refuse the Old Liturgy since “What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too” (Pope B. XVI). We have to remember too that while a Pope, Bishop or Priest has a duty to ban what is evil, they have no authority to ban what is holy; rather, Pope, Bishop and Priest must promote what is holy -and since the so-called ‘Old Mass’ was declared Holy by the Church in General Council, they are conceivably bound to promote it, not just tolerate it.
Session XXII, Trent. Canon 7. If anyone says that the ceremonies, vestments, and outward signs which the Catholic Church uses in the celebration of Masses, are incentives to impiety rather than stimulants to piety, let him be anathema.
Canon 8. If anyone says that Masses in which the priest alone communicates sacramentally are illicit and are therefore to be abrogated, let him be anathema.
Canon 9. If anyone says that the rite of the Roman Church, according to which a part of the canon and the words of consecration are pronounced in a low tone, is to be condemned; or that the Mass ought to be celebrated in the vernacular tongue only; or that water ought not to be mixed with the wine that is to be offered in the chalice because it is contrary to the institution of Christ, let him be anathema.
We are lucky here in Thornley; we have both forms of Mass; we have choices. But it is not for anyone, be they lovers of the Old or New Form of Mass, to refuse or denounce the other Form when both are the patrimony of the Church. We are never above the Church and her Tradition; we are its servants and beneficiaries.